Instagram was formerly a photography app.
Folks on Twitter and Instagram collectively lost their heads last week when Instagram head Adam Mosseri tweeted a video saying (among other things) that “We are no longer a photo sharing app.”
Changes are coming to video on Instagram 📺
At Instagram we’re always trying to build new features that help you get the most out of your experience. Right now we’re focused on four key areas: Creators, Video, Shopping and Messaging. pic.twitter.com/ezFp4hfDpf
— Adam Mosseri 😷 (@mosseri) June 30, 2021
In the first of my weekly newsletters this year, sent on January 2nd, the feature section was titled “Instagram Isn’t About Photos Anymore.” I followed that up with an article about the updated Instagram algorithm. Either I’m psychic, or these trends and signs have been there for a while.
I’d encourage folks to watch Mosseri’s video (it’s less than two and a half minutes) to hear the words from his own mouth, but in short, they want to focus on being a general entertainment app and (whether photographers like it or not) the energy right now is with video such as TikTok and YouTube. In order for them to compete more directly, that’s where Instagram is focusing their energy.
Whether you’ve noticed it consciously nor not, Instagram has been experimenting and gradually shifting in this direction for a while. They’ve added new sections and features that are primarily video-focused. Instagram’s e-commerce offering isn’t about selling photography, but it’s about selling other products. What was announced last week isn’t a new shift into these areas (and away from their still photography roots), but rather an explicit statement of where they’re headed, and that they’re not about photography anymore.
This shift falls right in line with recent feature news for the platform. A couple weeks ago, there was a story about how Instagram was testing an algorithm update to promote some suggested content ahead of your friends’ posts. Last week, we saw the news that Instagram is developing an “Exclusive Stories” feature to leverage that format in a new way that can’t be screenshotted (that’s the exclusive part). It appears this will be a feature where folks can subscribe to a given creator’s Exclusive Stories, but the financial side of things is up in the air. Sharing links in Instagram stories is currently limited to folks with at least 10,000 followers, but Instagram is now testing a feature to allow anyone to share links via a sticker.
So… what does this mean for photographers who have long seen Instagram as “their” social network due to the photo-centric content of its past?
Instagram Video Shift and Changes for Photographers
The change will mean different things for each of us, but here are the higher-level groups of photographers that will be impacted by this explicit pivot:
- For photographers who use Instagram purely for fun to check out their friends’ and colleagues’ still photo work, you’ll likely be disappointed as Instagram will be featuring more video content such as Stories, Reels, IGTV, and potentially other future offerings we don’t yet know about. While you might find this new material entertaining, you’ll probably find it disappointing as it’s likely going to mean that you see less from folks you know. If you’re already annoyed by the non-photo parts of Instagram, your frustration level is only going to increase from here.
- For photographers using Instagram as a way to showcase their work in hopes of finding new clients, or for photographers using it as a more passive social network to keep their name (and images) “front of mind” for business connections, you will need to change your Instagram strategy. With the de-emphasis of still photo content and the shift to featuring video, you will need to create video content to feature your work. This shouldn’t be beyond the technical abilities of a competent modern photographer, but it will require a shift in thinking and a bit more effort to be creative about showing what you do. Simple slideshows of your photos aren’t going to cut it. This may be an area where I focus effort in the coming months to help photographers be successful.
- If you’re a photographer who has a following online and you want to use your platform to showcase products and services (that is to say that you are — or want to be — an online influencer), these changes could be beneficial by giving you new ways to expand your platform and reach new people. If you’re willing to play Instagram’s game by Instagram’s rules, you could win. You will want to keep in mind that those rules can change in the future, and that you’re dependent on Instagram’s platform to keep that audience. Remember when folks thought they could have a huge Facebook audience (for free) by getting folks to “Like” their page? At this point those Likes are nearly meaningless and the platform is pay-to-play. There’s no reason to think that couldn’t happen to Instagram in the future.
Regardless of how you currently use the app, you’ll see these changes as the Instagram video shift happens over the next few months. I am curious to see how this impacts my usage of the app personally. I enjoy sharing and viewing photos there currently, and as someone who will be looking to promote my book in the near future (look for a launch date to be announced soon), Instagram is one of the platforms I will be considering.
There’s a related question to be asked and discussed as well. If Instagram is no longer about photo sharing, will another app or service take that place in our world? Instagram went mainstream as smartphones made it trivial to capture and share photos. Is there still a widespread strong desire for this service, or have the folks that drove the Instagram boom all moved onto short-form video for their entertainment? I’ll leave my thoughts on this for a separate time.
Can Instagram successfully make a pivot to a video-centric service? Realistically, I don’t see Instagram taking any new users away from TikTok, Snapchat, or YouTube. Their move is about increasing the engagement of existing active users and perhaps bringing some folks back whose accounts have fallen a bit dormant since the rise of video in the last few years. If they can do it successfully, the experience will likely be positive for those who are interested in video content. If they continue to see folks looking elsewhere for video entertainment, I fear that we’ll see a degraded user experience as the company increases sponsored content and other advertising to help them meet revenue goals.
It should be an interesting summer and fall for Instagram. I’ll be one of those folks who likely shifts how they use the platform. If you want to keep up with my thoughts and recommendations for photographers, follow along to get my weekly updates and you’ll be the first to know.
What’s your take on the Instagram video shift? Is this the beginning of the end for the service? A fresh new hope? Something in between?